Will Trump's job approval take off now that he's been cleared by Mueller?

When I say “take off,” I mean relative to his tepid approval rating over the past two years, of course. The guy’s not headed towards 60 percent or anything. He probably won’t touch 50 percent. But if he were to inch up to where his new standard job approval is, say, 47 percent or so, that would be a big deal for electoral purposes. The highest rating he’s ever had in the RCP poll of polls is 44.7 percent. That’s his ceiling to date, and a president with a ceiling like that is in deep trouble against any strong-ish Democratic nominee. But a president who’s a few points closer to 50 and suddenly out from under the political thundercloud that’s been following him around since he was inaugurated is a solid favorite to win.

I was thinking about that last night but Philip Klein beat me to the punch in posting about it. Simple question: How much has Russiagate colored public perceptions of Trump? Now that the investigation has put to rest some of the most sinister doubts about him, does he get a fresh look from some “soft” skeptics?

As I have written previously, Trump’s approval rating has been unprecedented. His approval rating peaked at 45 percent at inauguration, according to Gallup, making him the only president since data began with Harry Truman to go this long into his administration without ever experiencing majority approval. This is particularly incredible given that the economy has been strong and Trump hasn’t gotten the U.S. into an unpopular war.

Trump, to be sure, had a low approval rating going into his presidency, and his bombastic personality is likely to always make him a polarizing figure. That said, there has always been a theory that the cloud of the Russia investigation was holding back his approval rating. Now that it’s concluded, we’ll start to get a sense of to what extent that was true.

How big is this win? Big enough to give him a bounce of a few points for a few weeks? Big enough to establish a “new normal” in his public approval?

Big enough, certainly, to become a campaign rallying cry next year. He needed something to replace “Lock her up” and now he has it: No collusion!

“What they do is they clear the deck for there to be an evaluation based upon his record as president,” said former New Jersey governor Chris Christie (R), a Trump ally, who called it a “very good day” for the president. “It lifts a cloud that was over the White House for the entire time he was there.”…

One former White House official said the Democrats have “just handed the Trump campaign the greatest election issue in modern political history, on a silver ­platter.”

Douglas Brinkley, a presidential historian at Rice University, said: “Trump actually kind of has inoculation now against other charges against him because he was able to prove his innocence here. It allows Donald Trump to build his narrative about how the news media and the Democrats created this whole Russia collusion hoax, in Trump’s mind.”

I made that last point in a post over the weekend. Mueller’s findings not only take impeachment over Russiagate off the table, they make it that much harder for Democrats to sell the public on impeachment should any other serious grounds arise down the road. Trump spent two years assuring people that Mueller’s probe was a witch hunt aimed at delegitimizing him by finding collusion with Russia where none existed; he was wrong to accuse Mueller of being part of that hunt but right that Mueller’s many Democratic cheerleaders were eager participants. The next time they start hollering about witches, how seriously will swing voters take them? The smell of sour grapes will be overpowering.

Christie has it mostly right, I think. It’s not that “winning” on Russiagate will in itself produce higher approval for Trump, it’s that a small but significant part of the electorate might be willing to re-evaluate him on other things in light of his vindication on collusion. Until yesterday he was the guy who fired Comey and who may or may not have conspired with Putin to win the 2016 election. As of today he’s the guy who’s presided over a gangbusters economy and hasn’t done anything crazy abroad. That’s usually a slam-dunk reelection pitch for an incumbent — to the point where I’d say that if Trump *doesn’t* get a bounce from the Russiagate news in the next week or two it’ll be worrisome. If opinions of him are so hard-boiled that not even getting a pass on conspiracy from Mueller can shake them then maybe 45 percent really is his ceiling, with nowhere to go before next year but down. Rarely does polling this far out from a vote matter but I think it matters a little what we see in the next month or so.

Via the Free Beacon, here’s America’s worst senator with a sterling takeaway from yesterday’s news: Putin, not Americans, must be very glad to have it known that America’s president *didn’t* collude with Moscow.